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Jun 27, 2014

How To Create An Experience Your Clients Will Talk To Their Friends About

Have you ever had a really awful experience with a business? I know you have. Take a minute to recall that experience. What did it feel like? What did you want to do after it was over? Write a bad review on Yelp? Complain to your best friend? Burst into tears?

On the day of my brother’s wedding, I booked an appointment at a local salon/cosmetology school for my mother and myself. We wanted to do professional styling and makeup for the occasion and I was looking forward to the appointment time with my mom almost as much as the wedding itself.

It may seem like I was crazy to gamble on a student stylist on such an important day, but I had been to this salon several times for haircuts and had fantastic experiences. I also made sure to book appointments with advanced students, who would be on the verge of graduation. It seemed like a really safe bet.

The first sign that I was (oh so) wrong about that was when they told me they had lost my mother’s appointment. The staff at the counter asked me if I had told them it was for two people. (Really?) I confirmed that in fact, I had booked for two people, and I know this because I had to spell my mother’s name for the person on the phone.

They did eventually find someone to take her, but we were directed to separate stations. I was taken to makeup first. The first thing the student stylist told me was that she really didn’t know much about makeup! She pulled in another student to help her, but that opening didn’t fill me with confidence. Why would they set me up with someone who didn’t know about makeup when I booked a makeup appointment?

When I sat down to get my hair done next, I showed the stylist a picture I had of a simple curled style. “Oh,” the stylist said. “If I do anything with a curling iron, it’s considered a thermal treatment and costs another $40.” This is when I started to panic. Not only was everything going wrong, it was taking twice as long as normal and I was going to be massively late. 

To make a long story shorter, I left the salon with washed but straight hair, two “black eyes” and a red stripe of blush on each cheek. I literally had some guy staring at me as I walked to the car, and not in a good way! I broke down on the way home and my husband had to put me back together on the way to the church.

By now, you are probably sympathizing with me, especially the ladies, because we’ve all had an awful experience at a salon on an important day. You know how frustrating it is when you have a lot of emotions invested in an event and it turns out to be more difficult than expected – or downright painful.

Yet we as therapists forget that our clients can have just that awful of an experience with our businesses.

Have you ever thought about your counseling services as a customer service experience? Customer service is simply about making sure your client or customer has a good experience so they will want to come back and tell their friends.

This is important to us for two reasons. First, whatever kind of agency or level we work at, I think it’s fair to assume we WANT clients to come back to counseling if that’s what’s best for them! Second, if (like me) you have your own private practice, clients returning to your services and telling their friends about you have a direct impact on your ability to stay in business.

People talk about either really good or really BAD experiences at a business. Unfortunately, the bad ones seem to have the biggest draw, so we’ve already got a handicap to work with.

But the key to turning the odds back to our favor is by seeing the bad experiences as an opportunity and actually looking for ways to please your customer/client from inside the failure. I don’t refer here to the therapy or counseling itself, which might need to be confrontational or unpleasant at times in order to be effective for the client. Instead, I refer here to the rest of the experience the client has with your organization.

For example, do you:

  • Keep the paperwork and documents they need on hand?
  • Have a map on your website to show how to get to your office?
  • Send reminders of appointments the day before?
  • Follow through with resources you promise to research for them?
  • Have an easy way for them to let you know they’re in the waiting room?
  • Have comfortable lighting options available?

None of these are absolute necessities, but they make the experience a little nicer and less stressful for your client. We talked earlier about the frustration of having a negative experience when you’re already emotionally high-strung, like I was on the day of my brother’s wedding. What can be more emotionally taxing than coming into a therapist’s office? This is exactly the kind of scenario that can greatly benefit from a little extra customer care.

When your client is having a struggle, investing an extra dose of ease and support can greatly increase their commitment to counseling, which ultimately influences their eventual outcome of therapy.

The way I see it, the salon in my example had two opportunities to turn around my experience and change a negative into a positive. These were opportunities they didn’t take.

First, when they blamed the call center for losing my mother’s appointment and for giving me wrong information about what I could do when they told me a curled hairstyle was the same price as a basic wash and blow dry. Instead of blaming someone else, though, they could have chosen to make it their problem to fix.

When someone else screws up, like the insurance company representative, or a mapping application, how could you choose to make that your problem to fix?

  • “I understand you were told there was no co-pay today. I do have to collect the fees today, but why don’t I call the company personally tomorrow and find out where the miscommunication happened?”
  • “I HATE it when the map doesn’t include alternate directions around toll roads! Tell you what, I have a little extra time after your appointment today – since you couldn’t have seen it coming, why don’t we just make up the ten minutes you were late on that end.”

The second major mistake the salon made was to simply repeat what they couldn’t do. The one stylist couldn’t do makeup, they didn’t have waterproof mascara, they couldn’t do a curled hairstyle. What was available to me? I had no idea, and so I was left without any options.

Do you have another solution ready when you can’t meet your client’s requests? No one can do everything, but you can avoid only saying what you can’t do. For example, when you don’t take insurance, you have a multitude of options available to offer them:

  • A superbill.
  • A sliding scale rate.
  • A discounted rate for prepayment.
  • Contacting the insurance company about out-of-network benefits, application to a health savings account or against a deductible.
  • Referring to another counselor you know that accepts insurance.

Steps like these are the little things that your clients talk to their friends about. They’re probably not going to talk about the content of therapy for the most part, because that’s very personal and private. But how you make them feel and how you meet their needs through good customer service? That gets the buzz going.

The result is more loyal, long-term clients who tell their friends and family. That is not only an asset to your agency or private practice, but keeps people who need help in treatment longer.

What’s your best customer service move? How did it impact your relationship with your clients? Share it with me below!

Stephanie Adams invites you to join her and seven other private practice experts at a free teleconference series July 7-28, The Mind Your Own Business Conference Challenge: Clients Unlimited at
Register today and attend for free!

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  1. 4 Evelyn Barton 30 Jun
    A blended family came to me for family counseling, in addition to having their teenage girl go to individual counseling with another counselor.  When they started their sessions with me, they asked for referrals for someone who was conducting a support group for teens, as well as a psychiatrist for prescribing meds.  I researched for a day or two and then provided them with the information they were requesting.  Once the bio mother was introduced to the mix, in one of the sessions, I offered her a suggestion for a book to read regarding parenting skills, relating to the position she held or role she was playing in the family system.  They are more than pleased with the service, enthusiasm, and willingness to help that they received from me.   After five months, they are still coming to me for my counseling services.
  2. 3 Kimberly 01 Jul
    This is such a great reminder of the importance of providing great service to our clients. I think that if we approach our work from this paradigm it will positively impact our clinical outcomes as well as our business success. My approach is that I try to provide good service from the first phone call.I think that starts with returning phone calls quickly. During that first contact, I try to give people a good experience, even if I have to refer to another therapist. I have had a few people call back after providing a referral to other therapists, who have said "I think I prefer to meet with you". 
    Thanks for the wonderful reminder!
  3. 2 Stephanie 08 Jul
    Sounds like a great example of customer service in practice! You were really able to balance service with the professionalism of counseling practice. Thanks for sharing! 
  4. 1 Ashely Siegel 18 Jul
    Because I have been in business for 30 years,  I would take it even farther (not fair to you as I haven't taken your workshop and you may incorporate all of the below in your work ).

    But I still take notes at the end of sessions where I write down names of pets, parents, dates, doctors, etc.  I get signed releases to check with physicians and I send confirming texts during the week. I also use " TED.Talks" as homework assignments. Lots of mileage out of Brene Brown lectures,  Positive Psychology lectures and I always defer to Tony Robbins when client needs a kick-in-the-ass.
    Anyway, yes, sorry for wedding snafu but look. -- it lead you to a new workshop....  Best,  Ashely Siegel 


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